Research Historian Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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A research historian's median annual salary is $56,000, but is it worth the lengthy educational requirements? Read real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects before deciding if a job as a research historian is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Research Historian

Research historians collect, analyze and write reports about people and events that lived or occurred in the past. If you are a critical thinker who enjoys sifting through and interpreting information, take a look at some of the pros and cons before deciding if a career as a research historian is right for you.

Pros of a Research Historian Career
Opportunity to acquire transferable research, critical thinking and writing skills*
Premium job prospects for historians with hands-on work experience*
Job may include travel to interesting places to collect artifacts or do fieldwork *
Opportunities to work in a variety of related fields*

Cons of a Career as a Research Historian
Advanced degree programs can be expensive and time-consuming*
Job applicants will outnumber available positions*
Slow job growth is expected in federal, state and local government agencies, which employ the most historians *
Positions outside of government will depend on available funding*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Research historians collect information about historical artifacts, events, people, places, programs or policies. They use primary sources or first-hand testimony recorded by individuals with a direct experience of an incident, an idea or a situation. These sources can include autobiographies, diaries, letters, memoirs and oral histories. Research historians use historical skills and methods to analyze their information for authenticity and significance. Part of their job may include cataloging and storing artifacts and documents.

Research historians' responsibilities vary according to whether they are working for an individual business, the government or a historical association. Some of their duties can include investigating evidence for legal cases or regulatory issues, determining the historical context for policy matters, explaining the significance of a building, or writing about a military operation or government program. A significant portion of their time is spent writing articles, books and reports about their findings for an organization's or the public's use.

Career Prospects and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment of historians will increase by 6% from 2012 to 2022, which is slower than the average for all occupations. One reason for sluggish employment growth noted by the BLS was the federal government's projected 12% decline in employment over the same decade. This decline is expected to be significant since the federal government employed nearly one-quarter of all historians in 2012. However, historians will find more opportunities for employment outside of the government sector, including research organizations, consulting firms and historical associations. Prospective job seekers with practical work experience will enjoy the most opportunities. As of May 2014, the median annual salary for a historian was $56,000, reported the BLS.

What are the Requirements?

Education

A Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in History is the minimum educational requirement for beginning your career as a historian. An undergraduate degree in this major will provide you with a broad introduction to ancient and modern history, give you the opportunity to develop your analytical, research and writing skills and prepare you for graduate school.

The BLS reported that historians typically need a master's degree or a Ph.D. in history to work in the field. A graduate program typically takes two years to complete and may include an internship or work experience. Students who are accepted into a doctoral program in history can expect to spend up to six years earning their degree, including the 1-2 years it will take to write their dissertation. Alternative graduate degrees include archival management, historic preservation or museum studies.

Career Skills

The American Historical Association has identified four skills that professional historians need to work in the field (www.historians.org). Trained historians should have a mastery of:

  • Historical method: knowing how to phrase a question or describe an issue in historical terms
  • Historical context: understanding that historical questions or issues have a larger context
  • Primary sources: knowing where to find and how to use first-person historical records
  • Information organization and communication: the ability to express and share their ideas with others through articles, books, essays and reports.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Historians can be employed in both the public and private sectors. In addition to traditional topics, research subjects might include architecture, military history or even national parks. The following job postings from March 2012 will give you an idea of the credentials and experience you will need to apply for a position as a historian.

  • A state personnel board in Mississippi is advertising for an entry-level historic resource specialist with a bachelor's degree in history, museum studies or a related major. Job responsibilities include researching public requests, conducting research to authenticate historical artifacts and resources, lecturing, programming and conducting tours of museums.
  • The United States Air Force has an opening for a historian in Virginia to conduct research, write special studies and develop an oral history program. In addition to an undergraduate degree and one year of specialized experience, candidates should also be knowledgeable in historical concepts, principles, research methods and sources.
  • The National Park Service in San Francisco is looking for a historian with three years of graduate-level education or a doctoral degree in history or a related major. This person will be responsible for identifying and documenting cultural landscapes in the Pacific West.
  • An architecture, engineering and construction firm in San Diego has an opportunity for an architectural historian with a bachelor's degree in history, architectural history, historic preservation or other related major and two years of experience. Candidates must be able to conduct historical research using archives, historical societies and libraries, and be able to write and edit historical texts and technical reports.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

According to the BLS, one way for a history student to acquire the practical skills necessary to compete in the field is through an internship, volunteer or entry-level position at a government agency, historical society or museum. The opportunity to create exhibits or work with artifacts gives aspiring historians an opportunity to apply their academic skills to a real-life situation.

The American Historical Association (AHA) also suggests that history students consider joining a student history association such as the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society. Membership will give students a chance to gain valuable insights into the field and make equally valuable contacts. History clubs and graduate history associations can also be found at some colleges and universities.

Associations for the Professional Historian

Joining a professional association such as the National Council on Public History and the American Historical Association can give working research historians an opportunity to learn about new developments in their field, network with peers and find jobs. Association print and online journals and newsletters are easily accessible ways for historians to read scholarly papers and publish their own work. Association meetings also give historians a chance to interact with other professionals and share information.

Alternative Career Paths

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers or professors who teach at the college and university levels can specialize in any number of fields, including English, history or philosophy. At a university, professors often spend less time teaching and more time conducting research and applying for grants to fund their research. A doctoral degree in their field is typically required to teach at the college level, although a master's or doctoral degree in progress may qualify a candidate for some subject areas or part-time positions. The BLS expected employment of postsecondary teachers to increase by 17% from 2010 to 2020, which is an average rate of growth. According to PayScale.com, in April 2012 the salary range for history professors was approximately $58,000-$110,000.

Economist

Economists research and analyze the production and distribution of goods, resources and services, either individually or as a member of a team. While a bachelor's degree may be sufficient for some entry-level jobs, a master's or Ph.D. is required for most economist positions. The BLS projected that jobs for economists will experience a slower than average rate of growth from 2010 to 2020. In May 2011, the median annual salary for an economist was $91,000, also according to the BLS.

Political Scientist

Political scientists research and analyze governments, policies and political trends, and more than half of them work for the federal government. In addition to colleges and universities, other places of employment include labor, lobbying and nonprofit organizations. According to the BLS, political scientists can expect a slower than average increase in employment from 2010 to 2020. Political scientists earned a median annual salary of $104,000 in May 2011, as reported by the BLS.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Master of Arts in Museum Studies

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Keiser University

  • B.A. - Political Science

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Baker College Online

  • General Studies - Bachelor

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Penn Foster High School

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Kaplan University

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  • Bachelor: Liberal Studies

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